A Ukrainian Wellness Company Meets the Needs of Its Consumers and Employees Despite the War - Victoria Repa, CEO & Founder of BetterMe


Victoria Repa has known from her earliest days growing up in Ukraine how difficult it can be to lose weight. “In my family, everyone is overweight. It's our family problem and we can't overcome it.” Breaking that cycle provided Repa with the motivation to start her own journey toward better health, but she wanted to help others find their own motivation as well, and sustain it. Armed with business degrees from Kyiv University and Stanford, she launched the tech company BetterMe five years ago whose apps have already been downloaded 110 million times. Keeping that level of success going would be a challenge in any circumstances, but especially during the War in Ukraine which has required some staff to flee the country while others stayed to fight. Join host Michael Carrese for this inspirational conversation with a tenacious leader who is fighting for her country, her employees and the health of her customers all at once. Mentioned in this episode: https://u24.gov.ua/ to support the people of Ukraine.




Michael Carrese: Hi everybody, I'm Michael Carrese. Health and fitness is one of the most popular categories among mobile apps and today we're going to learn about one of the most popular healthcare companies that develops apps in that space, BetterMe, which is a leading Ukrainian wellness company that develops accessible digital health products and athleisure for people of all ages, all backgrounds and physical abilities. The company's apps BetterMe Health coaching and BetterMe Mental Health have been downloaded 110 million times since the company was launched just five years ago by our guest today, Victoria Repa. In terms of approach BetterMe focuses on making a healthy lifestyle as accessible and inclusive as possible. The Ukrainian based firm also emphasizes mental health which has obviously become a growing problem given the pandemic, widespread economic and political instability, and the full-scale war in Ukraine. Victoria is a graduate of the Keefe School of Economics and Stanford University Graduate School of Business, and she's also an alum of the Apple entrepreneur camp. And thanks so much for taking time to be with us today.


Victoria Repa: Thank you, Michael, for inviting me.


Michael Carrese: So perhaps we should start with having you tell us where you are today and what's been happening with you and your company since Russia invaded Ukraine.


Victoria Repa: Okay. Actually, I'm located now in Warsaw, Poland, because it's easy in terms of the logistics. I have a lot of business trips to the United States to Europe, Israel, so it's easy in terms of partnership and logistics. The biggest challenge the company and the team have ever faced is the Russian Ukrainian war. We had to transform most of our operational practices to keep serving our clients, and to reanalyze our previous professional and personal goals. Because, together with managing business related matters, it has been crucial for us to do what we can to help Ukraine fight for our freedom, democracy and justice. So my main goals for 2022 are safety of the team members, consistency of the business, ability to quickly react to possible new challenges, and helping Ukrainians to improve their physical and mental health so we prepare to rebuild what has been destroyed or damaged, and that's reality. We provide all our applications for free for Ukrainians, and of course, donate to our funds. If you want to donate today, there’s a collaborative formed by United24, which is led by President Zelensky. So for any help, it's only one source, it's United24.


Michael Carrese: United24. 


Victoria Repa: Yeah.


Michael Carrese: All right, and we'll be putting that information in our show notes so that people have the link to it as well. So, do you still have team members on the ground in Ukraine?


Victoria Repa: Yes, in BetterMe today there are 200 people and 70% of them are programmers, engineers, and in reality, it's all men and men today are prohibited to leave Ukraine due to the mobilization law. So they should stay in Ukraine.


Michael Carrese: Right. So it's quite amazing to hear that you're keeping your company going in the middle of all this. Why don't we back up a little bit and talk about how you first got into this space of health and fitness and particularly using technology to help people improve themselves.


Victoria Repa: I’ll start from my personal story, I'm Ukrainian and I was born and raised in the Donetsk region which was first invaded by Russia in 2014, and the one occupied by Russia. I just graduated and got my bachelor's degree in Business and Economics. So I was supposed to escape and start over in Kyiv and I entered the Kyiv School of Economics, then worked as an analyst for a global corporation in FMCG sector.  After that, I joined a Ukrainian tech company as a media analyst. I have always been interested in sports, mindfulness practices, and for many years, I tried to look and feel better. Working in the tech company I noticed an open niche in the health and fitness sphere: many people worldwide who are struggling with being overweight and lack motivation. So, I start BetterMe to cure, first of all, my personal pain, because in my family, from my childhood, everyone is overweight, and my mother, always from childhood sadly said it's genetic. It's our family problem and we can't overcome. So actually, I cured my personal pain and created a solution for millions of people trying to live better.


Michael Carrese: Help us understand the sort of the culture around health and wellness in Ukraine, because you've lived in the States too. So how would you compare people's interest in mindfulness and living healthy and losing weight in the States versus Ukraine?


Victoria Repa: Our primary market today is the United States and in the United States, about 80% of people are overweight. In Ukraine, it's about 20% of people who are overweight. But actually, it depends on conscious mindfulness, level of stress, entrepreneurship, etc. So our primary market is always the United States. In Ukraine, as of now, it's actually a different problem. It's not about the diet, right? So for me, it's really an opportunity, as before the war the primary sector in Ukraine was the agriculture sector. Now, it's closed to the occupied south, and this territory, and the IT sector today became one of the drivers to create new workplaces. As today, a lot of offline businesses are closed. So for me, it's also not only about my business, but how I can help my country, and that great brains stay in Ukraine, and work for Ukraine and create global products in Ukraine.


Michael Carrese: How are you going about doing that? What are some ways you can make that happen?


Victoria Repa: Actually, if we talk about Ukrainian schools, there are a lot of great engineering and mathematics and physics schools. So we have a really great brains, but most of our IT companies are outsourced today. So we serve a lot of companies from the United States, from Europe, from Israel, but we’re not creating a lot of products at these companies. So for us, it's really a great opportunity to create products inside our country and create workplaces not only for IT engineers, but also for marketing products, and a lot of different stuff, like sales and business, part of entrepreneurship, not only like programmers in the engineering path. So as of now, we are totally a full-scale operation and all of the team is located in Ukraine, Kyiv but we work in Europe, in Latin America, in the United States, in China, and of course, we have more than one hundred experts in terms of nutrition, in terms of workouts, physicians, and etc. especially if they are based in the United States, but they're outsourced to create different products that we can put in our application.


Michael Carrese: So let's talk about the actual applications for a minute. I mentioned BetterMe Health Coaching and BetterMe Mental Health. Can you break those down for us and help people understand what the consumer experience is like?


Victoria Repa: Okay, so if we talk about the BetterMe Health Coaching, the solutions serve a wide range of people on their health and fitness journey, despite their gender, age, physical and mental abilities. We create simple, reliable and user-friendly step-by-step holistic programs for those who want to live better and waste no time on insufficient solutions. We provide a solution to achieve the health goals of our client in the fastest and most affordable way for the users of our application. The app invites the users to answer some questions to identify the goal and provides the user with a personalized base of information to help them start and cultivate new habits of a healthy lifestyle, self-acceptance and self-help. 


If we talk about BetterMe Mental Health, it's focused not only on physical, but on mental states, especially depression, anxiety, and stress. It's easy step-by-step guides -- maybe five, ten minutes -- on how to reduce anxiety, with simple breathing techniques or with simple meditation wherever you are.


Michael Carrese: Your customers now can access health coaching via a website. Talk about that aspect of what you're providing.


Victoria Repa: TheBetterMe Health Coaching app is available on different platforms, Android, iOS, and also web. The web app was developed in pursuit of the company's main aim to make a healthy lifestyle as inclusive and accessible as possible. People have access to their personalized health plans from their phones, laptops, computers, watches, TV and other gadgets so they can choose the most convenient way to proceed. A user has a personal account which may be signed into from any gadget or place. The user incorporates healthy habits with BetterMe into their lifestyle, and changes their mindset. We would like to make a healthy lifestyle as accessible as possible for everyone.


Michael Carrese: So obviously, there are a lot of apps out there that are focused on health and wellness and mental health. What sets BetterMe apart do you think?


Victoria Repa: Maybe a key approach that makes us so effective is that our thoughts and feelings dictate our actions, and we often do things unconsciously. That includes mindlessly eating a slice of cake. We understood that, in the application, you should not only provide a diet or meal plan, you should also provide a holistic approach on how to change behavior gradually for long term success. The brain is afraid of uncertainty, and the main rule of self-discipline is a well-built strict schedule. We have really different plans and approaches. Because we have more than 110 million downloads, we test a lot of approaches and try to provide the fastest solution to our clients that they can use to achieve their health goals.


Michael Carrese: So, that's an amazing amount of growth in just five years to now have 110 million downloads. Why do you think things took off, and how have you managed that kind of growth?


Victoria Repa: Actually, when I started BetterMe, I wore a lot of hats and was like the chief everything officer. Now I am mostly chief energy officer. My key priority is not to do everything by my own hand, but to inspire people, to take away fear and provide positive energy, etc. But in reality, we have three main mantras that I highly recommend to all young entrepreneurs in terms of making decisions. The first is fail fast and cheap; second test alone; and, speed is everything. 


We never know what will work. We have a lot of tests. In terms of marketing and creative tests, we can do 100 per day in terms of different understandings of what people really want, and what are the right words that can motivate or inspire them to install health and fitness applications and just see what is there and just think what can be different or feel different in my life etc. \


We test a lot of different triggers in terms of peoples' behaviors, and the key idea I always tell my team is we should test everything because since this is the IT digital industry testing is really cheap. It's easy to have experience and increase your learning curve. You will never win. You should run tests forever, but maybe it's a key advantage that we never stop testing and find something that our competitors don't look at.


Michael Carrese: So as you know, Osmosis is a teaching company and we love to fill knowledge gaps. Is there something that you really care a lot about, or you think is really important that people should know that they don't already and you would say to us 'Osmosis, you should really focus some attention on helping people understand this.' What would that be?


Victoria Repa: Maybe the key important thing is health education. On the other hand is big food industry ads that just promote that it will be okay for us to eat more, to drink more, that it will create our happiness with a great body. Because we have a lot of stress, we can't understand the right solution for us. So, the most important thing is health education, that people can mindfully and consciously choose the right option in terms of the food and in terms of their drink, and not follow what the ads say.


Michael Carrese: Part of that is helping people understand how advertising works and why it works, why it's effective, right? 


Victoria Repa: Yeah, yeah.


Michael Carrese: We could all stand to understand more of that. So, a lot of people in our audience are in school learning about medicine and healthcare, or they're already in the early part of their career. What's your advice to them about approaching their career in general?


Victoria Repa: Based on my experience, I believe the best advice I can give young professionals and entrepreneurs is to be flexible. The world around us is changing, and we shall have to change too. Only flexible companies stayed safe during the pandemic. In Ukraine's case, it’s the war. Second is to be resilient. There are a lot of ups and downs in business, but you shouldn't let them define your story. Instead, learn from them and carry on putting the knowledge gained along the way into practice. Third, be empathetic. The most important thing for BetterMe is the team, and it's crucial to build strong connections with each other. In terms of business, the key is connection and communication with your team, with your partners, with your investors, and of course, number one with users.  You should always feel the pain of your potential client and understand their emotions. It's number one priority for me.


Michael Carrese: Well, you are obviously a very inspiring example of resilience, and we really are wishing you all the best as you continue to run your company under very, very difficult circumstances. We want to remind people again that they can check out United24 as a main place to go to help the people of Ukraine. I want to thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us today, Victoria.


Victoria Repa: Thank you, Michael.


Michael Carrese: I'm Michael Carrese. Thanks to our audience for checking out today's show. Remember to do your part to flatten the curve and Raise the Line. We're all in this together.